It’s A Miracle! Grump’s Son Goes Outside!

February 9, 2009 | By | Comments (15)

The unthinkable happened this weekend. Spurred on by 70-degree temperatures and a nagging, insufferable father, my 15-year-old son, Brian, left the comfort of his TV, computer, and iPhone and went on a hike with me. I have alerted the networks. Geraldo is on his way.


Our goal — beautiful Peavine Falls in Oak Mountain State Park in Jefferson County, Alabama, just 15 minutes south of where we live in Hoover. Peavine Falls is seasonal. During the dry season, there is no falls. But in winter and spring, it’s spectacular — well worth hours spent with a moody teenager who thinks the outdoors is a place you’re sent for breaking the law.

We set out after lunch, collected a trail map at the park entrance, and proceeded to the trail head of the Green Trail. This is the most direct hiking route. The map says it’s 2 miles. Unfortunately, most of the trail goes up, gaining about 400 feet of elevation on the way, which translates into two loathsome consequences for Brian. First, this is gonna involve exercise. Second, it’s gonna take more time than if we just parachuted from a plane.

About 5 minutes into our hike, at which point Brian thought we should have arrived already, Brian starts reading the checklist of supplies that the Parks Department says all hikers should carry before they start out — things like food, a flashlight, a whistle in case you chance upon a pick-up basketball game and someone commits a foul, first-aid kit, and, most importantly, water. We have none of these. I was so excited at the prospect of actually showing Brian trees and rocks that I forgot to bring anything except a cellphone. Oh well — if everything goes according to plan, we should complete the hike in 3 hours, before we lose consciousness due to dehydration.


Along the way, we pause about every 15 minutes so Brian can adjust to this brave new world. I take the opportunity to point out oft-ignored details of the natural world that gain new prominence in the winter deciduous forest. One is a native hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) that tends to grow in thickets atop the ridge-tops. It boasts the most beautiful exfoliating winter bark — red, gold, green, and silver. Alabama is home to more than 30 different hawthorn species. Without seeing a leaf, I can’t identify this one, but it should be grown in gardens.

Brian was unimpressed.

I Like Lichens


So then I turned to lichens that encrusted nearby rocks. I love lichens. What appears to be a single organism is actually a combination of 2 or 3 life forms that work together for mutual benefit. The usual partners are a fungus and blue-green alga. The fungus benefits the alga by anchoring it to a rock, helping it to store water, and breaking down the rock into useful minerals. The blue-green alga benefits the fungus by manufacturing food from sunlight, which the fungus can’t do because it lacks chlorophyll. Sometimes a third partner, cyanobacteria, helps with photosynthesis. The type of lichen shown here is called “foliose,” because it looks leafy. They’re edible for humans and wildlife (provided you’re really hungry). Plus, their presence indicates good air quality, as they don’t take kindly to air pollution.

“Lichens are lame,” said Brian.


We came to a rock-face slathered in green moss and dotted with rosettes of little wildflowers that resembled gray-green snowflakes. Water dripping down the rock made this little colony possible. “Isn’t this cool?” I asked Brian.

“You are so out of it,” he replied.

Anyone Hear A Banjo?


After a 1-1/2 hour’s walk, we heard voices in the distance. The falls must be near. We crossed over to the White Trail and headed down. After 10 minutes, we came upon the most horrific sight we had ever seen.

There was a parking lot there filled with cars, just a 5-minute’s walk from the falls. We could have driven there like all the other slackers and saved my son from his deadly exposure to fresh air and sunshine.

Fortunately, the falls were running big-time. Photo op! Photo op! Brian made his way through a crowd of redneck kids that looked like they’d just walked off the set of “Deliverance” and then posed by the rushing water. “Don’t drink it,” I warned him. “I can’t carry you back to the car.”

“Hey, look!” yelled a Deliverance kid. “I just found me a dead raccoon.” That was our sign. Time to go home. That dead raccoon probably had rabies, I told him. “Rabies!” he exclaimed. “You mean it’s a mama?”

Another Hike?

It’s nice and warm and sunny today. What a great day for another hike with my son. It’ll never happen though — until maybe a girl asks him.

In which case, Dad will be there with his whistle. 


  1. Grumpy Gardener

    “Almost teenage.” Cherish those final days of humanity. In short order, communication will cease, everything you say will be proof you are so out of it, and his friends will not be allowed to see you, talk to you, or have any evidence of your existence.

    February 26, 2009 at 9:17 am
  2. Pam/Digging

    So funny! I have an almost teenage boy, so I feel your pain. I get that rolling of the eyes in response to my lame enthusiasm all the time.

    February 25, 2009 at 7:35 pm
  3. Grumpy Gardener

    You realize that after cellphones and texting, the next step is for them to all have chips implanted in back of the ear, so that they can secretly communicate hands-free. It’ll be like the children on “Village of the Damned.”

    February 24, 2009 at 4:36 pm
  4. Molly Weber

    Somewhat, I’m always outside doing something in the yard and try to encourage her to come out. I hear ‘it’s boring’ quite a bit. We have a place in our yard we call ‘the area’. Every now and then she will come out to the area to sit and chat. They have so many distractions with cellphones, texting and Myspace… they are so available and seem to feel the need to announce their every move or thought. No mystery!

    February 24, 2009 at 3:15 pm
  5. Grumpy Gardener

    So is your daughter a vampire too? “Oh, the sunlight, it burns!!”

    February 24, 2009 at 11:25 am
  6. Molly Weber

    I have a 15 year old daughter and so I feel your pain. I laughed out loud several times while reading this article. But “lichens are lame” is my favorite quote. Thanks for writing, we love to read about your adventures.

    February 24, 2009 at 10:08 am
  7. Grumpy Gardener

    The most widely planted native hawthorn is a named selection of green hawthorn (Crataegus viridis) named ‘Winter King.’ This is an excellent ornamental tree, growing 25-30 feet tall with a distinctive vase shape. White flowers in spring give rise to lots of showy red, small fruits that last all winter. The flaking bark on the tree — gray, brown, and a little green — is handsome too, but not as striking as the unknown hawthorn in the photo (I’ll work on identifying that one when it leafs out). ‘Winter King’ is often planted as a disease-resistant substiture for Washington hawthorn (C. phaenopyrum), which is often disfigured by rust disease. However, ‘Winter King’ is not immune. Don’t plant it near an Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), which serves as an alternate host for the disease. Rust on ‘Winter King’ mainly affects the fruits, turning them into weird, little, Medusa-like balls. Many nurseries carry ‘Winter King.’ It’s become quite common in central Alabama.

    February 14, 2009 at 9:22 am
  8. Carlene

    You mentioned that the native hawthorn should be grown in gardens. Any suggestions as to which would do well here in the lower south? And possibly where to find them?

    February 13, 2009 at 12:03 pm
  9. Grumpy Gardener

    It is. If you click on Peavine Falls and Oak Mountain State Park in the first sentence, you can find out more about the place. Now would be a great time to go. Winter is my favorite time, because all the leafless trees are beautiful — a quality which of course is totally lost on my son.

    February 12, 2009 at 10:52 am
  10. Dave

    At least you got him outside! It was a great weekend to be outdoors. Looks like a beautiful place for a hike!

    February 12, 2009 at 9:00 am
  11. Grumpy Gardener

    Anybody ever see pink lichens? I was at Magnolia Gardens in Charleston, SC yesterday. There are bright pink lichens growing on the trunks of cypress trees in the swamp.
    Hey Jeff, if you take Beth on this hike and you meet up with Ned Beatty, walk the other way.

    February 11, 2009 at 6:51 am
  12. Isaac

    Lichens are just plain cool.

    February 10, 2009 at 9:59 pm
  13. Jeff

    What an inspiration you and Brian are! I am going to make sure my daughter, Beth reads this. Maybe she will do the same.

    February 10, 2009 at 8:48 am
  14. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden)

    LOL — typical teenage boy. Beautiful hike.
    PS My husband and I have a kayak. We want the “paddle faster, I hear banjo music” bumper sticker for our kayak. 🙂

    February 10, 2009 at 8:43 am
  15. Helen @ Gardening With Confidence

    Brian looks happy! Did this make Grumpy happy? I didn’t know that about Lichens. That made me happy? Deliverance kid finds dead raccoon – that makes him happy. Potentially with rabies – even happier. I’m seeing a pattern here. Are you?

    February 9, 2009 at 8:09 pm

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